15 December, 2008

Tips for the Latvian Government for Recession Busting

Latvia has the advantage of being a small country that can be easily disected so that targetted segments of the economy can be stimulated. Larger economies generally impliment broad sweeping policies.
1. Latvia can pass legislation to restrict banks from applying too high interest rates and fees on financially stressed families seeking to restructure their loan.
Loans can then be refinanced in to Latvian Lats if people believe the Lat will depreciate.
2. The Lat should be depreciated only after management issues like in 1 are taken care of. The recent sales tax increase for Hostels and Hotels from 5 to 21% suggests this is the intention of goverment.
3. Salary tax and Social tax should be decreased by at least 5% during this downturn and then when the economy has recovered these taxes can be revesed 1% a year so that an additional 5% is placed on top of today's rate and then slowly brought back to todays rate.
4. Provide incentives to Councils to modernise city heating from Gas or oil to wood Pellets or wood chips so as to decrease the amount of capital departing Latvia.
5. Provide incentives to households to improve energy efficiency so that they spend to decrease the drain on their cashflow and concurrently stimulate retail demand in the economy.
6. Seek the donation to Latvia of equipment made redundant by city councils and hospitals in Scandinavia and Old Europe.

29 November, 2008

Global Financial Crisis - Solutions

The UK, EU and the US have received their ideas on how to correct the global financial crisis from Australia. It was the Australian government that first allocated money for banks to give them funds to issue loans. Then Gordon Brown in the UK did the same claiming to own the maveric idea which then led on to the EU to follow.

What Gordon Brown and other countries now fail to do is to complete the package so as to provide a solution and not just a bandaid.

Australia had moved on to give a Christmas bonus to all Pensioners of $10 billion that was announced well in advance of issue so that the money would be wisely spent by pensioners.

Then the Australian Government met with 100 local councils to hear their innovative ideas to stimulate growth and spent $100 million supporting them.

For families with children they get $1000 per child as a one off payment o boost support.

Now on Nov 29th the Australian Government has announced a $15 Billion spend that will create 133,000 jobs. The Prime minister Kevin Rudd said “It will drive a reform agenda in health, education, as well as housing and businesses deregulation.”

These actions are yet another example of good leadership and how a small country can be an example to other countries worldwide. Latvia being a smaller country than Australia has a bigger opportunity to be an example for others with good leadership.

All sectors of the economy have to be targetted with sustained hits. I am sure there are more stimulating ideas soon to be deployed by the Austalian Government.

28 November, 2008

48 hours for a Patriot how much for the occupant of a leadership position?

The 48 hours detention of some that have an opinion about the strength of the economy and the Lat is an incredible injustice. We all know that to have a strong economy the country has to have strong exports as this supports the demand for the Lat required to buy these manufactured goods.

There are many clear paths towards improving exports and the most obvious are not being used for Latvia. I wrote to the Latvian President some months ago to initiate the obvious that requires the involvement of the Latvian President as it is a method used by Presidents of other small countries assisted by Prof Michael Porter. The President palmed me off to the Ministry of Economy which in turn did not reply regardless that the Latvian President instructed them to. The opportunity lost from Latvia because of the Ministry of Economy's inaction is that one of Australia's largest international business universities along with Professor Michael E Porter of Harvard University in the USA will not be coming to Latvia. A big loss for Latvia so I wrote a second time to the Latvian President and was informed to chase the Ministry of Economy myself.

My objective was twisted by the Presidents Office so they could avoid having to do something.

Along with the loss above went the involvement of medical teachers and medical processes that would improve the health system in Latvia!

6 or so years ago I was aware that the Foreign Investor Council in Latvia did not have a member that was manufacturing in Latvia to export. So I applied to Direct FICIL to attract to Latvia such an investor. But the excuse I was given was the old 'need to speak Russian and Latvian story.' 6 years later they only have a foreign manufacture member that sells to the local economy.

I soon after started Directing the Business Development Lab at the Stockholm School of Economics and during the three years I worked there it was very clear that the Latvian government did not want to invest any money on business development. Regardless that it can be proven that every $1 invested by the government would return over $10 taxable dollars for the Latvian economy.

So if someone can be locked up for saying that they think the Latvian Lat will depreciate then how long should the people be locked up that have the responsibility to do something to strengthen the lat but do nothing? The do nothing policy surely will do more to depreciate the Latvian Lat than the opinions of a few common folk.

11 November, 2008

Business Opportunities in a Recession

If you do not think you have a future then there is no need to plan for it. Many people that have not been challenged by life may find that not believing one has a future is an odd way of thinking. But what's more unusual is the fact that the majority that do believe they have a future do not plan for it.

Now that there is an economic downturn there is a noted increase in telephone calls coming to the Australian Chamber and to my own business from people seeking to sell something. I curiously ask them some questions to identify why I have become part of their target market and what becomes evident to me is that only now I have become a potential customer for them.

For some of the suppliers they are too late as I either have customer loyalty with existing suppliers, I am convinced the callers company can not perform, or I have already satisfied the need. A very few new callers succeed in concluding a contract as I am convinced of their quality and service level is worth the price.

During the good economic days there were suppliers like Aldaris that could not provide my business good service or quality for the price. Aldaris I kicked out of my business and because there was a good economic climate - Aldaris did not care that I rejected them. Baltkom is another company that treats its customers with disrespect. Baltkom charges customers for the days and weeks they are not connected by Baltkom. Viasat did not even have a service office for over a year.

The trend for these poor suppliers is that they concurrently use multiple ways to totally disrespect their customer. 1, they stop supplying, 2. They have penalty fees for a late payment, and 3. They report you to a credit agency. The option for these companies to improve service, price and quality to increase their customer base seems to be an effort they do not want to pursue.

So overall now there is much more opportunity in the market as people are not so willing to pay bills they do not agree with. Companies like Viasat and Baltkom have prepared the market for other companies like Star TV. Personally I have chosen SKY TV. Aldaris has already lost business to Cesu and other companies like K Rauta with a nazi styled attitude towards customers lose market share to companies like DEPO.

Customer loyalty should have been built up over the previous few years as should have been websites with not only other language options but have them fully functional. The 118 information centre that always hung up on English speaking people now has trouble signing up businesses, especially those businesses run by English speaking people.

I have websites I started over a year ago now hitting the top of the first Google page joining my websites already on the top of the first page of Google that I started 5 years ago. I gave a talk 2 years ago at a Latvian Tourism Development agency event attended by about 200 people. I said that it is near impossible for English speaking people to find information about the countryside of Latvia. I see nothing has been done to open walking tracks or to improve accessibility in English.

So if you do not think about your future then you will follow with your actions of doing very little with your life and less about your business. If you do think and act then there is a lot of opportunity in the market. Now is the time or improve or start new businesses and out smart your competition. The weak businesses are much more easy to identify when they are suffering so now is the time to do your best to do more and not less to win over their customers to your business.

If you are an employee then all this applies to you. If you want a good secure job then you have to be professional about your work. Because if you are lazy and do not think then you will only get jobs with companies that are losers like you. Having no respect for yourself and others attracts others to treat you the same.

07 October, 2008

Empirialism Vs Capitalism

The Russian Stock Market has been forced closed over 25 times by the Russian Government and capital is fleeing the economy. A high school economics student would have better proven ideas on how to run a country. Government supporters don't care about that as it is more about Nationalism than Standard of Living. But the government supporters are not those people with money and the knowledge how to make it in a competitive environment.

Without competition peoples knowledge is not tested and innovative ideas are not identified and business does not grow. The masses would choose socialism if it were not for good leadership in putting money in their hands. A true empirialist would invade other countries to distract the population rather than put money and bread in hands.

So the conclusion is that the Russian Leadership is making it up as they go but with the most extreme changes in policy that further makes them appear unstable.

23 August, 2008

The Moral Competition, Georgia and Russia

The August 8 initiated military conflict between Georgia and Russia has turned out to be a competition of what side can gain the highest Moral Ground. Russia has a history with its neighbours of being a spoiler country that gains relevance by weakening its neighbours and this undermines trust of Russia on the world stage. So when a real opportunity for Russia arises for it to truly attain the moral high ground it has a starting position of being distrusted. In press conferences Georgia has used Russia's spoiler history to Georgia's advantage. Russian reports on how Russia is being perceived internationally attests to the affect of this spoiler history - 'The West is seeing White as Black'.

Internally for Russia there must be a lot of congratulatory back slapping. There simply has to be when the history of the Russian government is to stop and close down debates that could be identifying opportunities for improvement but are deemed Critical of Government. The Russian government has replaced internal debates with its own moral version of events by stating it was preventing genocide. Well might Russia have prevented genocide in a speedy manner but when it is not trusted by its neighbours Russia should have added a few democratic elements to get to a commonly understood starting point. That is of course assuming Russia cares what its neighbours think. Bullies are usually big and don't care what neighbours think.

By moralising debates Russian leaders are saying that the perceived wisdom is sacred and anyone questioning it is a heretic. The next and executed step in this self moralising is that if anyone is in denial of the perceived wisdom then they ought to be punished for it. The word 'Punished' is exactly what the Russian President used which seems to further confirm what psychological path the Russian authorities are on - Frank Furedi 'The Politics of Fear'.

A Kangaroo Court operates in the same way where the desired outcome is manufactured largely by removing key elements that exisit in a democratic system to get a faster pre determined outcome. Russia has Economic, Political vetoes and Military tools to manipulate neighbours and when Russian leaders are blinded by these tools there is little incentive to make the extra effort to become more diplomatic. Russia banks on the many members of the EU not being able to conclude on a tough response and attempts to drive a wedge between the EU and the US.

For Russian government leaders the right to not be challenged is given more importance than the right for pubic free speech and this enables a continuation of self moralising. The cost to Russia is that it loses Foreign Direct Investment currently stated to be 28 billion a year. But most of that is the return of Russian money that should have remained in the country in the first place. Even the Russians are not so trustful of their government and this will be seen an an increased exodus of Russian capital to foreign banks. Most importantly true FDI brings with it skills and knowledge that directly contributes to the improved standard of living for all Russians - not just the privileged. There will also be a decline of EU reliance on Russian energy. There are many other supply sources that Russias blindness of incourages bypassing process.

Without a move towards a more intelligent society Russia will continue to remain the large Ogre when compared to the objectives China and India have for their image and people.

I struggle to comprehend why it is not more obvious to Russia that having pro Russian but independent satelite countries is more beneficial for Russia than attempting to keep those countries in a headlock. Small responsive countries quickly find their own economic advantages that could deliver a multitude of benefits for Russia.

Russia seems to be truly miss calculating its opportunity on the world stage and how to get there that the stated objective to protect citizens in Georgia attempts to suggest is an objective for Russia. What about independence for North Ossetia or Cechna?

As for Georgia - Why not give independence to two regions within its borders when they were incorporated in to its borders by Stalin in the 1930's so are not traditional Georgin territory. Abkazzia and South Ossetia deserved independence as much as Georgia did and Georgia should have valued its freedom enough to give freedom to Abkazzia and South Ossetia.

The conclusion seems to be that both Russia and Georgia are using people as pawns and are not genuine in their pursuits. Georgia and Russia have a long way to go to be moral governments and neither can claim to be the moral police when both can not be trusted to represent themselves truthfully on the international stage.

Latvia should not just be overall anti Russia but should detail something like above as to why Latvia is not comfortable with the Russan military invasion of Georgian territory. If Russia follows some internationally accepted processes then countries like Latvia will not be driven to create closer ties with a balancing power. Scandinavian countries and Australia provide better role models on how moral governments operate and thus create a better world.


06 August, 2008

Corruption in Latvia and the referendum

So the referendum in Latvia on 2nd August for the people to be able to have the right to disolve government did not get enough votes. Only around 600,000 voted so the bill fell short by by just over 100,000 votes.

One could despair at the lack of interest by the people of Latvia. Or one could look at the half full glass of 600,000 that demonstrated that they would like a better Latvia. So here is a tip for all the people of Latvia.

As all regional government posts are political posts then make sure your local Mayor is doing the right thing for your neigbourhood. The dismissing of Kekava Dome established a legal procedure for all to follow when their Mayor is wasting resources and not making correct decisions.

Start from the bottom and work your way up.

Find this document to show you how:
(Ar grozījumiem, kas izdarīti ar 13.11.1997., 21.12.2000. un 17.02.2005. likumu, kas stājas spēkā no 18.03.2005.)
Likums Saeimā pieņemts 2008.gada 15.maijā.
Valsts prezidents V.Zatlers
Rīgā 2008.gada 28.maijā

05 July, 2008

All the worlds a stage and Latvia has its part to play

William Shakespere wrote these famous lines - "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts...."

And what of nations like Latvia? What part should Latvia be playing? Forever the Infant?

Latvia stands on the stage of nations and represents the aspirations of many people all over the world past and present. Independence and freedom exists in Latvia but it is not possible to hold up Latvia as a good example of how a country gains freedom and puts it to use to add value to the world. With the Sacking of the Anti Corruption Director - Aleksejs Loskutovs - it looks like it will be many more years before Latvia will have leadership that understands that the people of the country come first and sacrifice to serve the people of Latvia is expected.

It is not just the people of Latvia that are being let down but also the people in other countries suffering under dictatorships. Other peoples dream and fight for freedom so as to provide a better environment for their children and Latvia is wasting the credibility it could have on the world stage to assist these people worldwide.

Furthermore it is the smaller countries like Latvia that can adapt faster to world conditions and find the most efficient means for economic advancement. Many larger countries look for examples of good policy in smaller countries like Sweden, Japan, Singapore and Finland. Latvia should move closer towards being an honourable country contributing to the world rather than moving towards being a Third World Nation.

29 June, 2008

Gay folk in Latvia

Today I read about Maris Sants a gay activist in Latvia leaving Latvia because he is tired from the gay rights fight in Latvia. I am not surprised about this but I am disappointed. In fact Mozaika is a very disappointing organisation as its policy is too aggressive and causes people to close off their ears and get defensive.
It is common knowledge that Frontal attacks on society using scantily clad people waving flags will stir an oppossing force very fast. I have heard that Mozaika feels that parades are the way to get a voice in Latvia to make the rights issue a topic of conversation. So instead of us all talking about how smart the gay rights movement is working to bring understanding in Latvia - we are talking about the fight between gays and the church based protesters.
Now Maris Sants is exhaused from the fight the gay movement started and his skills are lost from society. Latvia is a poorer country for not being more accepting but if the Rights Movement ignores the sensitivities of broader society then I am sure that many people in Latvia are happy to ignore the loss of Maris.
What was wrong with planting grass and flowers in the barren areas around our streets and providing a calmer value adding voice for gay folk in Latvia. Why was media content not calmly influenced and 10 or 20 year plan adopted. Too often the impatient people want it to happen today and end up taking much longer to achieve an objective that all of Latvia deserves. When you have occupied a position in society there is responsibility to do it the right way and not just your own way.

03 June, 2008

Soviet Comfort the easy option

I have just completed a 2800 km drive through Ukraine that seemed to be a time machine experience taking me back to 1970's Latvia. It was not what you knew but who you knew that was most important as is the residual thinking in Latvia now. There is a hell of a lot of comfort in having the phone number of someone that can clear up troubles in an instant. It makes you feel privledged and part of the exclusive club and difficult to ignore for those that like to lord it over others. But the goal in life surely is not to contribute to a fuedal society that excludes people. That causes the disenfranchised to protest in their own un democratic manner through crime and violence let alone the long term cost of an inefficient use of resources and lost opportunity for the country.

The traffic police in Ukraine are notoriously corrupt so having a well connected contact was most comforting when in the middle of nowhere. But I did take the opportunity to explore what the police had to say on the many occassions they stopped me for a random check. They would go so far as to have fake breath analysers that gave false readings, they would suggest I had taken drugs and needed to go with them for a drug test, they would show false readings on my speed, and that was just what I understood.
Needless to say that there are no self drive tourists in Ukraine attested by the fact that there is no infrustructure for them like Motels or tourist signs. Ukraine could not possibly be part of the EU whilst this treatment of westerners exists. This is what Latvia is moving away from but very slowly. There are many people in Latvia that think the progress from a Ukraine styled past has been the largest part of the journey for Latvia but almost certainly just the start point has been achieved. Only once people have stopped fighting can the Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing be achieved.

14 May, 2008

With no vision there is no trust

After 4 months it seems likely that one of my company's bank accounts will be unblocked by the Latvian tax office (VID). Imagine the pile of bills and penalty invoices I will finally be clearing off my desk. Oh the joy of doing something most people in capitalist economies take for granted. When I thought I would gain commercial happiness through intelligent business deals I was reduced to dealing with a mindless entity.

A fair punishment I am sure for those that break the law. In my case however this company has for a long time over paid tax by more than 5,000 lats. The problem started when the company registry lost my personal code and informed VID that the company is directed by someone not registered as a tax payer.

This communication is part of their standard procedure that no doubt has nothing to do with international standards like ISO 9001. I know this as I direct other companies in Latvia where my personal code is contained within the same company registry that should have provided the information they required whilst they waited for me to resubmit originals. But instead the Company Registry procedures, and many like it in Latvia, are based on the premise that the Latvian is not to be trusted. These non trustful procedures in Latvia are not ISO 9001 certified but SOL 1944 documentations of pre existing inefficient processes.

Once you get caught in a SOL 1944 there is no face you can meet as all staff are warned by their Director to not allow anyone with a problem to meet the Director and staff have no power to fix anything themselves. Correcting the fault of the organisation that made the error by paying high fees for fast processing will not make any difference once you have been reported to another authority like VID. To the organisation you are reported to you are seen as just a common criminal in conformance with the SOL 1944 premise that a Latvian is not to be trusted.

What really works in Latvia are contacts that can correct the issue fast so you don't have 4 months of hassle. Of course you pay these contacts and they are the same people that can corrupt the system and are not to be trusted.

So I must conclude that just maybe if Soviet Occupied Latvia 1944 (SOL 1944) procedures were to be replaced with ISO 9001 then the people with responsibility might not have a chance to be so corrupt and treat the public with the same distrust they see in themselves.

There is hope here because in 2007 one ISO 9001 accreditation company was the first to be registered in Latvia http://www.am.gov.lv/en/news/DomesticNews/2007/february/14-2/ . A bit of a joke there just being one accreditation company but other countries can be relied upon for accreditation just like the Latvian pilots that go to sit the easier EU compulsory English exam in Vilnius to be certified in Latvia then so will ISO 9001 fraudsters.

Maybe we have to go one step further back – Didn't I previously write about the benefits for the people of Latvia having one common optimistic vision for the future?

So if this topic ends in pessimism then why do I write it? The answer is that all the time when I meet with Non-Latvians doing business in Latvia they are frustrated at the difficulty of getting things done in Latvia. The lack of professionalism in people with government responsibility wears down the enthusiasm for doing more business in Latvia and as a result Latvia looses valuable resources that would lift the standard of living for all Latvians. When foreigners get together over a few beers/bbq and share stories it helps to indirectly alleviate the frustrations and may even enable a possible solution to be identified. In the worst case a solution may be to depart from Latvia and set up business in another country.

The patriots of Latvia come in all forms and many people that do a lot for Latvia do not have any Latvian heritage.

04 May, 2008

How to Beat Inflation in Latvia

Gee inflation is really making inroads in to income. Here are some tips on how to beat it.

Any software you pay a licence for is highly likely to be also available legally free of charge in an open source form. One of the better sites for searching for the type of software you require is http://www.sourceforge.net/ or TwoCows. Governments are moving away from high licencing fees as Singapore droped Microsoft in 2004 and the Nederlands is migrating to free software http://iht.com/articles/2008/03/05/business/open.php . An example of free anti virus software is http://www.avast.com/ and for free word processing compatible with all Microsoft Word documents try http://www.openoffice.org/ . Search for Key Software names like Firefox for Internet searches, Linux UBUNU as an Operating System, AVG for antivirus, ZoneAlarm for a firewall, Logmein for remote access to a computer, and ADrive for 50GB of online data storage.

If Heating costs are eating you up then think about Heat Pumps for floor heating, Thermal Solar for water heating in summer to offset your winter costs, and an ioniser pump for radiator and hot water all year round http://www.stafor.lv/ .

Work on your website to gain a higher percentage of the market. There are tools that can provide good feedback on the effectiveness of your website. AustCham Latvia can provide you a 30 page evaluation of your website.

Get a big storage tank to store farm diesel for your vehicle, Get off of bottled water, share one DSL connection with your neigbours and share the cost, AND REMEMBER THAT CASH IS KING so if you spend more now on decreasing your expenses then that is more important than calculating how many years it will take to recoup the expense - only people that think like sheep do that.

The best way to beat inflation is to start a new profitable business. The best new profitable business makes use of idle capacity in your current business or job, the second best way to start a profitable business is to replace a verticle component associated with your current business.

28 April, 2008

Latvia at the Centre of Europe

Australian Trade with Europe is around 30Billion Lats a year but trade with Latvia barely touches 1 million Lats. Australia exports over 10% of goods to Europe (mainly Germany and UK) and imports around 25% from Europe.

It is the intention of Austcham Latvia to enable Latvia to increase trade with Australia. The second step in this process has been the establishment of the Australian Chambers of Commerce blog. http://australiancommerce.blogspot.com/

The new Blog attempts to coordinate Australian resources located internationally and within Australia. The proactive Australian Chambers of Commerce worldwide that participate in the new blog will communicate with australian businesses to attract them to their country and encourage Australian business involvement with multiple countries.

This initiative will take time to gain enough participation to be effective. Dean Strautins of AustCham Latvia will self fund promotion to achieve the critical mass of participation.

13 April, 2008

Sustainable Economic Growth in Latvia

This Blog so far has topics that continue to point out the lack of leadership in Latvia. From the Post Office to the President of Latvia there seems to be a lack of purpose for everyday activities in Latvia. Considering that the Latvian economy's growth has been credit based and not export orientated then the leadership in Latvia is violently silent.

Too many people in Latvia do not seem to have a reason to live their life to a high standard or even a standard expected as a based level in many other countries. People have either had an easy ride taking credit or they have been left behind economically. The result being - participation from the employee sector is not orientated towards a common goal for the country.
This blog could be filled with many examples of incompetence as a result of a lack of professionalism. In fact in Latvia it is not just that people do not perform as expected in their position, they actually put effort in protecting and disguising their lack of ability to perform.
So in an attempt to push the Leadership requirement to a new level I attended a Conference on Sustainability at the Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration (RISEBA).
The conference had attendees from 11 countries and as usual there were the professors that drilled in to symptoms on the economics ills in Latvia. If these many symptoms get listed and sent to the different political parties then sure enough they will be to long and complicated to be understood.
My suggestion is to keep the list of symptoms for education institution interaction with the business community to together find solutions. The Cause of these symptoms is lack of leadership resulting in under utilisation of the resources in Latvia and the resources freely available to Latvia.
With no direction and overt corruption from the Leadership the future of Latvia is being wasted and their tenure has become one of occupation at a departmental level. So that a higher standard of living can be achieved for the people of Latvia the removal of Soviet Occupation was only a first step as the soviet mentality still exists. The required change is either within the minds of the current leaders or in the minds of their replacements.

Applying processes and recruiting many relevant people to a goal of economic advancement is the easiest way to subtly change the mindset from selfishness to self-fulfillment. Having business make demands and put pressure in many hundreds of areas will cause a profound change in the ethics of the people. The leadership must lead the way otherwise there will be no confidence that the goal is realistic. Business will use the market mechanisms to be the change agent for Latvia. Leadership is not required to drill down in to detail as that should be the responsibility of the Education Cluster and Business Cluster.

The flow chart below shows the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Latvia's suggestion for improving the economic situation in Latvia. In addition to what is written above there is the International Resources segment where Retired professionals are attracted to Latvia to contribute to the goal.

Flow Chart Sustainable Growth in Latvia

28 March, 2008

Latvia Tourism

Tourism in Latvia is a disgrace. Tourism is one of the easiest ways for a country to attain inflows of foreign currency but Latvia does not do enough to represent itself and attract international guests.
Many people from other countries are intercepting people searching online for tourist options in Latvia because Latvians have little interest to communicate in English.
Do a search online for Rural Tourism Latvia and you get websites from Armenia and Belarus intercepting the tourists from Latvia with their websites. Most of the other search results are irrelevant and you have to know Celotajs is the Latvian word for 'Rural tourism' !
Once you are at the Celotajs website you are not able to book online. I asked this office why they did not have online booking and was told that they 'voted against it in case someone with the same name arrived at the accommodation claiming to have made the booking.' Absolute insanity! I offered to provide the office an online reservation system free of charge but they declined.
Try booking a ticket online to catch a ferry. You cant even find a website that represents ferries at the port unless you know that the Riga Port is called Riga Free Port or that the ferry company is Tallink. But even once you can find the Tallink webpage it is impossible to book online instantly!
Ok so let's try an easier search -'Latvia' and the http://www.latviatourism.lv/ website respectably comes up in second place on the first page. Proceed to booking using the English language and you have to navigate using the Latvian language. Then when you get your results in Latvian listing accommodation all over Latvia!
Latvia should be a Mecca destination for people from all over the world wanting to do countryside walks or ski trips lasting a few days. But Latvia does not have any chalets or long distance walking tracks. Latvians will tell you that Downhill skiing is better but we do not have mountains so best you go to Austria.
Lithuania has over 200km of cycle tracks leading up to the Latvian border and Latvia has a few interspersed listed tracks. Hellooooo! Anyone home in Latvia care enough about Latvia to do their job?
I did work with the Aluksne Town Council to improve rural tourism. I had honours students from Australia stay in Aluksne for 1 month doing research and writing a plan. I paid for most of it from my own pocket. We had transmitter technology installed that communicated about tourist sites 24 hours a day in 5 languages. Then one Latvia authority made yet another demand of 1000 lvl more to provide certification so the Council could include the transmitters on tourist information material. This in effect killed a non-profit project that could have had large benefits for all of Latvia and tourism businesses in all remote areas of Latvia. Imagine the rural employment improvement opportunity that Latvia has missed and the export of this technology to other EU countries that Latvia could have represented.

27 March, 2008

Baltic States or Countries

Latvians too often are their own enemy because there are so many basic things that ought to be done to improve the prosperity of Latvia that have little to no cost to do them. One overt example is that Latvians refer to their country as a State and the region as the Baltic States. This is a problem because most English speaking people have an experience with States being a subsidiary of a country. Australia and the USA are examples of countries made up of States. So what country is the Latvia State a subsidiary of - Russia?
Considering that most English speaking people are not too familiar with Latvia they tend to think that Latvia is a breakaway state of the Soviet Union. They are not so aware that Latvia regained independence. Instead of attempting to educate the world it would be a much easier to remove disinformation and refer to ourselves in Latvia as a country.
An image of a country is a valuable asset for the people of that country. Many companies work at avoiding associations that damage their image. But Latvia is active in undermining its own image.

The Municipality Asset in Latvia

I read in the Opinion section of the Baltic Times last week the article titled 'Municipal Madness' where is was suggested that decreasing the amount municipalities in Latvia would somehow bring a mentality of efficiency to the leaders in Latvia. (432 rural municipalities in Latvia and there are calls to merge some to leave only about 100.)
This seems a bit like Latvia wishing to be a larger country if it could be. The old argument about economies of scale puts forward the message that large enables reduction in the cost of production causing less cost. But I would like to suggest that the time for big is coming to an end. Latvia is a small country and this is its advantage. Smaller is faster and more competitive. Would small areas of Latvia be better represented if they became homogenised in to a larger command?
The answer in this day and age is NO.
Controlling small diverse municipalities has never before been easier than it is now in this information age. Each small municipality represents a competitive sector of Latvia striving to attract resources through promoting its advantages. Having no people in an area is an advantage as is having lots of people - it just requires application to the correct industry segments for each area.
Sweden has 290 municipalities, Finland has 416 and Norway has 430. These countries are considered economically successful so having many municipalities does not exclude economic advancement. If the argument is that some of the municipalities are somehow rotten in need of assistance then dragging them together to create a larger administration could drown out the whole municipality with predominantly bad news and poor resources thus hampering startup businesses. Slower responsiveness from a larger municipality with more staffers to deal with that hide behind each other will certainly handicap start up businesses. Whereas businesses can perform across municipal borders once established.

I approached my own remote municipality of Valle and made requests to rezone my land. I received a positive and fast response and even delt directly with the Mayor. I concurrently deal with larger councils in two other areas of Latvia and they are more obstructive than helpful. What makes success is not driving costs down but focusing on generating income. Basically adopting an abundance way of thinking about Latvia than a pessimistic view.

One of the big causes of the problem for municipalities is a mentality in Latvia that 'Everyone Knows How to Find Us' and as a result there is not enough effort placed on attracting resources like customers. Regaining independence is not complete when every business and municipality behaves like it is hiding behind an Iron Curtain. 99% of all revenue generating units in Latvia can not be found by people that speak the major international Language - English. As a result there is a lot of cash in Europe that is not finding its way to Latvia.

When people can gain income through corruption, EU funds or by evading taxes there is not as high an incentive to be professional about what you represent. In the mean-time whilst Latvia sleeps many people outside of Latvia are winning the business and even taking key domain names to point people from Latvia to their own country.

Diverse and many Municipalities represent a bigger business opportunity for Latvia than if they were consolidated. They just need to be lead better so they know what and how to promote.

26 March, 2008

No Responsibility in Latvia

1. ) The Committee in Latvia is the governments answer for avoiding responsibility. It enables a collective style in decision making where there is not one individual standing up as a leader. The Committee is corruptable because individuals can be influenced by money to sway the vote of the Committee. When decisions made by the Committee are seen as damaging to society the Committee is blamed and all individuals that make up the Committee are not named and shamed. Such famed Committee decisions have included .....
However, with a bit of effort from the people of Latvia the Committee can be guided in the right direction. Maybe every Committee in Latvia needs an Interest Group drawn from the public that watches the agenda for every decision being put forward.
In 2003 I with two of my students from the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga met with the Riga City Council Committee to prevent a Bowling alley being set up in a government building. We put forward an argument supporting Ieva Kalnina to establish a Contemporary Art Exhibition Centre. I am very happy to say that in 2008 this exhibition centre opened.

2.) At the start of 2008 I updated one of my company's documents to reinstate myself as Director of that company. This resulted in the discovery at the company registry that they had lost documentation I submitted 2 years previous. The Company Registry did not take responsibility to work with me to correct their error. Instead I had to demand to be able to speak to someone to identify what went wrong. There was active refusal to meet and talk and I had to pay extra money to speed up the process. But meanwhile the Company Registry informed VID that all the documentation was not in place and my bank accounts for this company have been closed for over 6 weeks. A total uninterest from the department responsible for their mistake. They did not behave responsibly or professionally and caused a lot of extra cost to myself.

3.) With government departments setting the standard I got the same amature irresponsible behaviour from Baltic Motors when I needed my Land Rover serviced. Baltic Motors are so bad that I now take my car to Sweden to get it serviced. Baltic Motors purchase the wrong parts then charge me for their mistake, they say they have done work that they charge for that has not been done, I pay for parts to be ordered that never arrive. The classic was changing lots of parts to get my cruise control working again but they failed. I got fed up with their incompetence so I purchased the correct part elsewhere and fixed it myself.

23 March, 2008

Squandering the Resposibility of Leaders

When Directing the Business Development Lab at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga it became apparent that business growth in Latvia suffers from Professor-itis. Professoritis is the tendency for a lot of thinking and not much doing. Have a good humoured look at the web page of The Latvian Presidents Commission for Strategic Analysis - great photo with a list of professors below it http://www.president.lv/pk/content/?cat_id=1147 and check out the Latvian National Development Plan for 2007 to 2013 http://www.nap.lv/eng/ .
In these websites you will see documented proof from the highest Latvian offices that there has been a lot of thinking referring to business objectives that should already be well down the track. But these objectives will never occur timely enough to be of much value for the people of Latvia. This is mostly because of what you see on TV - Latvian leaders wasting time shaking the hands of foreign diplomats instead of progressing specifics on how steps will be achieved.
Over the last 17 years the Latvian Investment Development Agency has been struggling to educate Latvians on business development. As far as I am aware The Latvian government knocked back all applications from LIDA for entrepreneurial funding regardless of the fact that it is well known that 1 euro invested by a government to increase entrepreneurship returns at least 11 taxable euros to an economy within 5 years. Only in the last 2 years EU funds for entrepreneurial development are getting through thanks to EU leadership.
The Foreign Investors Council in Latvia that represents the largest private businesses in Latvia have failed to attract one substantial manufacturer to set up exports from Latvia.
All just another example of Latvia placing more value on Hierarchy than the ability to get things done and no vision for the future of Latvia that the people in Latvia believe in.
Contrast this with what is happening April in Australia - the Prime Minister of Oz has gathered top business leaders together to formulate specific objectives to enable Australia to maintain its competitiveness http://www.australia2020.gov.au/ .
In this summit real-time information (Not Data) will be collected from the people that have specific experience and knowledge on what exactly needs to be done by particular departments and particular people.
However, in Latvia there is one Minister that has the ability to get things done and he holds the respected Hierarchy. Ainars Slesers can be directly credited with making Latvia the largest recipient of Norwegian foreign investment and pushing Latvia to become an aviation hub. But he is not held up as a shining example for others to emulate because he concurrently has let his entrepreneurial zeal get away from him and undermine the responsibility entrusted to him. Maybe an improved legal system in Latvia would discourage runaway cronies.

19 March, 2008

Latvian Culture

In the past 5 years I have seen Latvia's image hijacked by Strip Clubs and similar humorous businesses. I have written at least 20 letters to the Riga City mayor, the President, and Ministry's arguing that renting out government buildings and providing permits for such businesses in a UNESCO listed area is not in the interests of Latvia. Some small mercy's have been achieved. But on this journey I had seen foreigners blamed for the perversion when I am not aware of one strip club being owned by a foreigner. Posters pointing fingers calling tourists terrorists is another example of blaming others and doing nothing constructive. But after 17 years of freedom Latvia has finally established one web page in English promoting something good about Latvia that is readable, interesting, and full of up to date content. You have to see www.culture.lv . This Culture website lists events for Music, Art, Dance, Theatre, Cinema, Literature, and Museums. This website proves that it is possible for Latvia to be professionally proactive targeting English speaking people, so there should not be excuses for other departments to squander their responsibility.

12 March, 2008

Australian economy Booming

The Australian Economy is booming. The Australian dollar has appreciate 30% in value over the last 12 months. There are billions of dollars of account surpluses for Australian State Governements - Especially for Western Australia. There are recruitment drives in the UK urging some of the 100,000 Australians living in the UK to return to Australia. The shortage of workers in Australia is causing so many problems that many people with skills can more easily than usual obtain a work visa to Australia.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Riga as of March 2008 is trying to source around 45 million dollars worth of products from Europe for the Australian market. If there is success then this will grow to around 500 million dollars in 2009.
European and US economies are on a downturn so markets and income are being lost by many firms. Just maybe it is time for many European Latvian businesses to think about Australia as a business partnership opportunity.

10 March, 2008

Australia versus Latvia

You hear it all the time -
1. I would love to live in Australia,
2. Why do you choose to live in Latvia when Australia is so nice?
3. How can I get a job to stay in Latvia longer than my visa will allow,
4. There are too many Latvians and other Eastern Europeans in London.
5. It's too cold in Latvia!
These are examples of such cliche comments from minds full of assumptions. All the sensible people know that just about anyone can live and work in Australia if you have a skill that Australia requires.
1. What a wonderful opportunity for non Australians to graduate and also be allowed to live in Australia. You choose what you study and if you want to live in Australia just study the right thing.
2. Latvia is a wonderful place to live with its four seasons. beautiful sights, natural forests, and great location within Europe.
3. Good jobs in Latvia can be hard to find especially if you do not speak Latvian but why not open a business of your own in Latvia. In Australia it will take around 6 to 10 years of study to be able to open a Real Estate company but in Latvia you can have one operating within 2 weeks! Latvia needs businesses and if you open one you can stay as long as you want.
4. As I recall the big scare for New Europeans prior to joining the EU was being taken over by rich experienced Old Europeans. The reality is that Old Europe is not very forward thinking and they have not taken advantage of the opportunities presented in New European countries like Latvia. It's not all about life as an employee. Where are all the entrepreneurial employers of the world?
5. Australia is more cold than Latvia. Believe it or not but when you return home to a cold non centrally heated home it takes a long time to get warm, When the wind blows a gail and the rain falls it is much colder than snow with no wind. Cross country skiing in Latvia gives a purpose to the cold and it is very beautiful.

08 March, 2008

The vision for Latvia

What is the vision for the future of Latvia that the people of Latvia believe in?
Why are the people of Latvia so mean to each other?
Why is there is more focus on hierarchy than professionalism in Latvia.
Sure a book on culture can explain a lot of it but are Latvians really wanting a society with no vision for the future?
Why did the previous Latvian President of 8 years not unite the people of Latvia with a vision for the future?
Why don't the majority of people in Latvia that have succeeded in business and are financially secure contribute back to Latvian society?
What happened to the burning desire that should have existed to make up for 50 lost years.
We see on occasion an indication of what the people of Latvia want when they protest. But this is classic Nei Drikst (Cant do it) and not positive leadership.
Keeping the enthusiasm for life in my son against all the nei driksters in Latvia is a challenge. Latvia and the people of Latvia have more opportunity than their equivalent person in Australia. But who tells the people of Latvia positive messages and encourages them to be happy and positive about the future?
I just had the Commissioner of the Western Australian Police in Riga. I sent an invitation to the Latvian Police and KNAB to meet with him to establish contact for the benefit of Latvia. But I got no response and I guess it is because these organisations don't have an understanding of the relevance of such a contact. With no vision and no goal, then no one knows where they are going and what is the best choice for society.
Certainly I don't see a flood of people with Latvian heritage coming to Latvia. Why should they when there is no direction or purpose for their energy and resources. Latvia should be a haven for retired Scandinavians with skills, time and money to contribute to the Latvian vision for the future. I lived in China for 3 years and witnessed how the Chinese attract any resource that will help them get ahead economically. I'm not even sure Latvia has a goal to be an economic leader in some way. I have heard the odd minister state that they are following some EU document. Latvia has more opportunity than China to provide a high standard of living for all people living in Latvia. Where are all the manufacturers that should have established themselves in Latvia? What leader has ever attracted a substantial manufacturer to set up in Latvia. Why don't the Presidents of Latvia focus more on attracting business to Latvia. This is what leaders of other small countries do successfully.

Anyone got any answers or able to correct me (in writing) if I am wrong?


Dean Strautins
DirectorAustralian Chamber of Commerce in Latvia
Suite 11, Krisjana Barona iela 25
Riga, Latvia, LV-1011
+371 26394789
Fax +371 7278809